Bob Ross died from cancer, ending his second battle with lymphoma. His death set off a legal battle that would end only when a judge determine Ross’ son, Steve Ross, did not own the rights to his father’s intellectual property more than two decades later.
The battle over Bob Ross Inc., the eponymous brand that was formed to sell painting products in the ’80s, came to light when Steve Ross filed a lawsuit in federal court in 2017. A judge determined that even though Ross named his son as an heir to the intellectual property in his will, he could not legally designate his son as the owner, according to the Daily Beast. Bob Ross Inc. was owned by four partners when it was formed: Bob Ross, his wife, Jane Ross, Annette and Walt Kowalski, the article said. Jane Ross died in 1992, leaving Bob Ross with only one-third of the company. The Kowalskis became full owners when Bob Ross died.
The legal battle is the subject of a new Netflix documentary that digs into the lawsuits that laid claim to the Bob Ross brand. The documentary, Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed, was released on Netflix Wednesday, August 25, 2021. Bob Ross Inc. released a statement in response to the film, which began, “Bob Ross Inc. takes strong issue with the inaccurate and heavily slanted portrayal of our company” and made responses to specific accusations. You can read the full statement here.
Here’s what you need to know:
Bob Ross Died of Lymphoma & Was Buried in a Simple Grave in Florida
Bob Ross suffered from lymphoma and died in 1995 after the cancer returned for the second time, according to the Daily Beast. He suffered a heart attack in the mid-1980s and learned in 1994 that his cancer returned. He was given a grim prognosis, the article said.
“Although he was as tough as they come, his health had been a chronic issue—so much so that, for years, he had been convinced he’d die early,” the Daily Beast reported.
Ross was buried in a “gleaming aluminum coffin” and was laid to rest beside his mother and father, according to the Daily Beast. He had only a small funeral at a chapel with about 25 family members and close friends before his burial at the cemetery, the article said.
Ross died at his home in Orlando, Florida, at age 52, according to his obituary published in the Orlando Sentinel.
“Bob Ross, the bushy-haired, soft-spoken painting instructor who found fame on public television’s ‘The Joy of Painting,’ died this week of cancer,” said the 1995 article announcing his death.
Bob Ross was buried in his home state of Florida in a simple grave that described him simply as a “television painter,” according to Find a Grave. His gravesite is located at Gotha, Orange County, Florida, at Woodlawn Memorial Park, the website says. His tombstone is inscribed with his name and his image, along with his date of birth and date of death, in addition to the words “television painter.”
Bob Ross Attempted to Leave Intellectual Property Rights to His Son, Steve Ross, & His Half Brother
Shortly before Bob Ross’ death, the gentle painter known for “happy little trees” was presented with legal documents asking him to turn over the business, Bob Ross Inc., to Annette and Walt Kowalski, the Daily Beast reported. Ross, who was already suffering from lymphoma, refused the request. Instead, he made a series of changes to his will and said that his name, likeness and intellectual property go to Steve Ross and one of his half-brothers, the article said.
A judge, however, determined that Steve Ross did not hold the rights because, at the time the will was amended, the intellectual property in question belonged to Bob Ross Inc., not Bob Ross himself, the Daily Beast reported. After the death of Jane Ross, he owned only one-third of the company. A judge attempted to make a good deal for Steve Ross, the article said.
“In the end, they struck the best deal possible under the circumstances,” the article said. “In exchange for a modest payment, Steve gave up his claims on Bob’s intellectual property. Most importantly for him, perhaps, Bob Ross, Inc., gave him the clearance to move forward with his business using his name and the right, under non-disclosure agreements, to show some terms of settlement to prospective business partners who might be fearful of a Bob Ross, Inc., lawsuit if they were to get into bed with Steve.”